Over the past couple of years I have found myself having very similar conversations with a lot of my colleagues. We’ve been talking about an industry that’s struggling. An industry that grew so popular and so fast that now we are hitting some painful growth realities. There are suddenly a lot of amazing restaurants- with no one to cook in them. There are cooks, servers, managers, chefs, all working towards the hospitality of others; while they themselves work in an inhospitable environment. There are staff who work incredibly physically demanding and sometimes dangerous jobs without proper healthcare. There is a culture of abuse that only the strong are meant to survive, while we take a backwards sense of pride in the fact that this isn’t real living, this isn’t thriving. Why should it be? What kind of person can thrive under the abuse of their environment? So the conversations continue. And we talk about the sustainability of our resources, the produce, the Earth’s environment, the guest.
There have been a lot of articles written about the ups and downs of the restaurant industry. The New York Times, Grubstreet, Thrillist, Eater, Fortune, etc. have all posted articles centered around the shortage of cooks. The difficulty of keeping staff. Why is that do you think? Anything to do with the way we treat each other?
I don’t think there is one cut and dry problem or solution. It’s a complicated, multifaceted struggle that we are seeing happen in front of us. That we are talking about, at least.
The struggle is real. We’re aware.
So where do I fall in this? I find myself passionately involved in the conversation about sustainability- I agree that our resources are running scarce and that we should be concerned and start thinking about ways to cook in a way that is more responsible. But I also find myself steering the conversation towards the idea that our staff and our environments that we work and live in are just as important a resource. The sustainability of the restaurant as a whole is where my big picture keeps circling back to.
I’ve been lucky enough in my ten years in this industry to work with a lot of amazing people. I have learned that a place where we can collaborate and trust each other is the place that I truly feel fulfilled. The place where I know that the guy next to me- yes it is more likely that person is male- but that’s a different conversation. Anyways, if I know the guy next to me has my back when I need it and he knows that I can step up when he needs it, that’s the place I want to wake up and go to work in, every day. Shit pay or not. That community of people that cares and trusts each other is where I want to be.
I have also worked in a lot of places where there is a culture of fear, of abuse, of micro management and just plain bad or under developed leadership. The idea that “it’s not personal” that you get yelled at or beat down is normal and expected. That’s not where I want to be at all. And the idea that I am just going to move from job to job until I find a place where I can be fulfilled isn’t enough for me anymore. I’ve seen too many places where this “social norm” is the reality. It’s not where I want to be, it’s not where I want my colleagues to be. It’s not what I would wish for my friends. Whether they are the guy yelling or getting yelled at. That’s not thriving. That’s not sustainable. Who wants to be scared and/or mad all of the time?
So here I am, trying to continue this conversation. Trying to do whatever I can to help fix what we’ve all at least started to acknowledge is broken. Taking a stand for myself and my friends, because I can’t just keep trying to find something good for myself and watch the status quo remain the same for everyone else around me. Let’s talk about it. About how to make our restaurants places where we all want to be. Where we can thrive.